A New Jersey library board held a meeting earlier this month to discuss banning certain books, including queer Black author George M. Johnson’sAll Boys Aren’t Blue, but an outpouring of support brought on by an appearance of their mother and aunts resulted in a surprising result: a unanimous vote to keep the books on shelves.
Glen Ridge United Against Book Bans, a group fighting against right-wing efforts to remove books about race and sexual orientation from public access, invited Johnson to attend its board of trustees meeting to appeal against a book ban, BuzzFeed News reports.
However, they had another obligation in Texas and sent their mother, Kaye Johnson, 65, and her sisters, Stephanie Elder, 51, and Sarah Elder, 57, to represent them in their stead.
The three women live 20 minutes from the library.
Johnson’s mother spoke at the meeting, reading a prepared statement her child had written.
“Our books are not introducing teens to hard topics. They are simply the resource needed so they can understand the hard topics they are living out day to day,” Kaye Johnson said.
The book, a collection of essays from Johnson’s lived experience, illustrates topics such as consent, agency, sex, and an instance of statutory rape.
In addition to Johnson’s book, Citizens Defending Education, a local conservative group, has filed a petition to remove Rowan Ellis’ Here and Queer, Juno Dawson’s This Book Is Gay, Robie Harris’s It’s Not the Stork and It’s Perfectly Normal, and Cory Silverberg’s You Know, Sex.
“Not all parents want their children indoctrinated in race-based theories, reading sexually explicit material, or being taught in the classroom to question their sexuality or gender identity,” the group’s website states.
However, Johnson’s statement addressed the essential need for stories like theirs to exist in text accessible to readers of many ages.
“As a Black queer person, I know what it’s like to read books that don’t tell my story,” Johnson’s mother read. “So in this hunt to protect teens, does it ever cross your mind that removing or restricting this life-saving story for LGBTQ students only harms them more or how removing this life-saving story for Black teens harms them? Or do you not care? That’s really what this fight is over — removing LGBTQ stories and Black stories. If you don’t want your child to read it, that’s fine, you have every right to allow your child not to read, but you don’t get to trample on the rights of parents like my mother and my aunts.”
A chorus of cheers erupted after Johnson’s family read the statement, and Glen Ridge Public Library’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved keeping Johnson’s book and others in circulation, according to BuzzFeed.
Johnson tweeted their delight following the board’s decision.
“My mother and two aunts held it down at the school board meeting. And the book was not removed. Thanks for all the prayers y’all,” they wrote.
The win is a small step forward in a climate where Republicans have calculated that attacks on trans kids, pronouns, books, and gender-affirming care are the way toward regaining political power.
Across the country, school boards and libraries are struggling with efforts to ban books in the name of GOP freedom and erase the identities of queer and trans people by quite literally removing books by and about them from shelves.
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